Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Settlements strike again

Israeli soldiers denied Palestinians access to their own land [via Land and People]:

More than a dozen young Palestinians were forced to strip naked by Israeli troops, who insisted the measure was a security precaution after the group requested permission to access closed-off village land Friday afternoon.

The men, from Deir Istiya southwest of Nablus, were on their way to tend lands west of the village that are sandwiched between two Israeli settlements, Ariel and Immanu’el. The men all had permits to access the land, but were accosted by a group of at least 15 armed Israeli settlers and prevented from passing into their land.

Israeli troops intervened in the settler-farmer standoff by forcing the Palestinians to remove their clothes, then turning them away from the land.

I think sometimes that the true banality of evil is how boneheadedly stupid it is on occasion. I mean, there was no reason to believe that these particular Palestinians had ever done, or were planning to do, anything dangerous to Israelis or to the nearby settlements. They had permits, granted them by Israel, to access this land, which they legally and rightfully owned. But they were humiliated and denied that access based solely on their nationality/ethnicity (oh, race, so socially constructed). There's the evil.

But stupidity is how these soldiers, and others like them, don't seem to see why behaving this way only hurts their own cause. There's nothing grand and sweeping about this. Disgusting and low-minded as this behavior is, it doesn't even induce shock and awe in the reader--it's about on the level of rather bad bullying (in terms of the actual abuse at the moment, not its discriminatory and political meaning). It gains nothing for its perpetrators but ill-will.

That is the banality of evil--the sniggering of the bully or the blank stare of the functionary, never understanding the meaning of what he or she does. Evil that is understood, or justified, or explained away but unerringly committed, is certainly evil; but it is not banal. It is shiveringly creepy. Think of Dick Cheney versus Alberto Gonzales; for which do you feel contempt bordering on pity, and which makes your skin crawl?

Disclaimer: I almost can't believe I feel the need to write this, but better safe than sorry: I am not saying that Israel is evil, banal or otherwise, or that Palestinians are blameless. The latter half of my rumination is more an abstract consideration of what I mean about stupidity and evil than it is a sweeping indictment of Israel. I maintain that the actions of these soldiers on this day are indefensible, but I am not painting Israel with their brush.

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